Bruce O'Connor is an artist. He has been an artist for a good many years, and worked in the graphic design part of the industry for many years. And after all those years creating portraits, landscapes, illustrations and still life studies, there is another type of art he creates. It's war art. He admits it's a labour of love, and over the past 10 years, O'Connor has created numerous depictions of battles, aircraft, and military events, his latest being a picture of Maj. David Currie accepting surrender from a group of German soldiers as Currie and his small force took St. Lambertsur-Dives, during the Second World War, an action that would result in Currie being decorated with the Victoria Cross. "I found the photo of the surrender in a book and decided to recreate it in colour," said O'Connor, "I looked at the original, and thought `this man won the VC-- at least his action should be shown in colour'." O'Connor made sure his colours were correct, researching the South Alberta Regiment's colours to make the image true to history. He intends to donate the image to the South Alberta Regiment's museum, or Peel Region Museum. In addition to the Currie drawing, O'Connor has created many others, some of them featuring the air force, particularly with Lancaster bombers. One hangs in Greenwood Air Base Museum in Nova Scotia, while another is featured at the Flying War Museum at Hamilton. Both depict aircraft, which is no surprise-- O'Connor is a Second World War veteran, a veteran rear gunner from a Lancaster bomber. The O'Connor family has a deep-rooted military background. Bruce's father, Hebert Henry O'Connor, was a veteran of the First World War. He joined the 124th `Pals' Battalion, (which enlisted friends or co-worker together in the same unit-- a concept that became disastrous when a regiment faced heavy casualties, since an entire town's men would be wiped out.) See VETERAN, pg. 7
Veteran recalls war through his art
Continued from pg. 6 He fought in France and Belgium from 1915 until 1918, and survived gas attacks at Passchendeale, and fought at Vimy Ridge and Ypres during all the most vicious fighting campaigns of the Great War. O'Connor jokes how his dad went overseas in 1915, "leaving his wife and five kids at home-- but I figure she must have forgiven him. I was born in 1923." O'Connor's oldest brother Gordon joined the local militia in 1929, and was on callout in 1939 when he was called to service. He was attached to the Royal Grenadiers, and later the Royal Regiment of Canada, seeing action in Iceland, then to England with the 2nd Division, and was wounded 10 miles out in the Dieppe Raid of 1942. He made it to shore but was captured and interred as a POW (Prisoner of War) from 1942 to 1945. He escaped three times, the last time during a death march across Germany in the dead of winter as the German army was moving the POWs away from the invading Russians. "Gordon made it to England and looked me up," said O'Connor, "We had a great reunion-- I hadn't seen him since he left in 1939." O'Connor's second brother Herb joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942, and was assigned to the Prince Henry, as a stoker. He saw action in the Mediterranean area, as well as the coast of Sicily, Italy, the D-Day landings and patrols along the south coast of France. His ship also repatriated Greek government officials after the war. O'Connor also enlisted in 1942, and was shipped to Lachine, then out west to Calgary to wireless and gunnery school. "I wasn't good at wireless," said O'Connor, "I had trouble with the technical side of things-- too many ohms and amps to deal with." He returned to duty in Toronto, but still wanted to join the air crew. Accepting any duty he could to become part of the air force, he finally got his break in 1944, being sent to gunnery school in Manitoba, and received his wings in 1944. After a stint in Nova Scotia for commando training, he was sent overseas, to join Bomber Command in England. "I was given the rank of Pilot Officer and later Flying Officer, and my duties were rear gunner on a Lancaster," said O'Connor, "I had finally made it to the air force." Being a rear gunner on a Lancaster bomber wasn't considered the safest position on the aircraft, but O'Connor flew five night missions over Germany and in spite of the action, returned unscathed. "We returned to Yarmouth Nova Scotia after Germany surrendered, and I wanted to volunteer to join Tiger Force (against Japan)" said O'Connor, "But the rest of my crew weren't interested, so another crew said they'd take me on, but as soon as they (the Americans) dropped the Abomb, the war was over before we even left." O'Connor was discharged in 1946, and returned to his art, picking up jobs as a graphic artist. But the military still held it's appeal and when he moved to Montreal to accept a civilian job, he decided to join the 17th Duke of Yorks, applying as a private, but the army allowed him to transfer his air force commission, and was given the rank of lieutenant. He joined the Queen's York Rangers and spent time at Petawawa, training to be a tank officer. "After nine years in the army, I decided I'd had enough," said O'Connor, "I retired from the army in 1958 with the rank of Captain." He again worked as an artist and in the publishing world until he retired. In 2000, O'Connor came across an ad in the newspaper, appealing to veterans to talk to school kids. "It was the Dominion Institute Memory Project, in which veterans were asked to go to local high schools to address the students about war, and how they can learn from it. Since that time, O'Connor has visited schools to give them his message. He is a born artist, one who has continually returned to his love of visual media. But he is much more than that. He is also a veteran, and one who has been able to marry that love of art with a responsibility to society, in doing so, sending out the message of the horrors of war, but also that oppression is a bad thing, and we should all do our part to prevent it.